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How Would You Deal With an Office Medical Emergency?

Although you may not think of an office setting when it comes to emergencies, quick thinking in an office has saved many people from injury or even death. Coworkers may not have told you about their medical condition, such as diabetes, asthma or epilepsy. Or you may not have told them about yours. So there are hazards in the office to watch out for.

“First aid” is just that—urgently needed care that’s administered until a patient is seen by a professional. Although emergencies in an office may not be as common as in typically dangerous occupations, it pays to be prepared. Here are some first aid tips for potential office emergencies. Remember, the first step is always to dial 911.

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness: Tap the patient on the shoulder and ask, “Are you OK?” If there’s no response, see if the victim is breathing. If not, give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (Administer CPR only if there are no signs of breathing/movement and you’re properly trained). While waiting for help, raise the patient’s legs higher than their body, loosen their clothing and apply cold cloths to their face.
  • Choking: Use the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge whatever is choking the person. Never strike someone on the back, as that may push the foreign matter deeper down the windpipe.
  • Heart attack: If the patient is conscious, help the person sit (not lie) down. Ask if the patient is taking medication and needs help using it. If the person is unable to speak, look for an emergency medical ID card or bracelet. Keep the patient warm. Loosen his or her collar. If breathing has stopped, give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If breathing and the pulse have stopped, and you’re trained, administer CPR and use an AED if one is available.
  • Stroke: Keep the patient warm. Turn the head of a vomiting patient to one side. Don’t give the patient any stimulants or anything to eat or drink.
  • Nosebleed: Have the patient sit down and lean forward (don’t tilt the head back!). Apply pressure by squeezing the nose closed along with cold compresses around the area. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, take the patient to a hospital emergency room.

One more piece of advice; know where your office’s first aid kit is, what’s in it and how to use what’s in it. If you do use something in it, make sure your supervisor knows, so it can be replaced. Check the patient for any medical ID tags, bracelets or cards to tell paramedics about. Likewise, if you have a personal medical condition, make sure there’s someone at work who knows you have the condition and who’s familiar with first aid for it.

Maybe now you're wondering where you could get training in CPR and First Aid? Well the Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) offers training for CPR/AED as well as First Aid for a fee of $35 a person for staff and faculty. Students can receive training via the Rec Center. SHAC uses the AHA (American Heart Association) course curriculum for both courses. The Heartsaver AED course in particular was designed to achieve one primary goal: to improve rates of survival from sudden cardiac arrest by strengthening the early access, early CPR, and early defibrillation links in the "Chain of Survival" in every community. The Heartsaver program targets all lay responders, such as security personnel, employees in the work place, family members of patients at high risk for sudden cardiac death, and other laypersons. These responders are trained in the use of CPR, barrier devices, relief of FBAO (Foreign Body Airway Obstruction), and AED (automated external defibrillation) use.

So what’s an AED? An AED is a device that administers an electric shock through the chest wall to the heart. The device is able to assess the patient's heart rhythm, judge whether defibrillation is needed, and then administer an appropriate level of shock. Audible and visual prompts guide the user through the process. A number of PSU students, staff and faculty are trained to use an AED in case of emergency, and PSU is proud to be able to provide this life saving tool on campus. (follow this link to see a map of all the AED locations on campus).

If you’re interested in setting up a training for either CPR/AED, First Aid or both for your department, or you have questions regarding creating/maintaining your office first aid kit, contact Gwyn Ashcom at 503-725-5123 or by email at

Written by Gwyn Ashcom, MPH, CHES - Health Educator
PSU Center for Student Health & Counseling